“You never change…” Can God change His mind?

They say the only constant in life is change.

Life bombards us with an endless sequence of events.  Sometimes that sequence rushes by us like the swift currents of a river.  As much as we try to grab them, hold on to them, never let them go, time slips through our hands with terrifying swiftness.

Sometimes change is good: it speaks to our ability to grow, to mature.  The downside to this is that time brings on the problems of age: graying hair, aching joints, fading memories of happier years and the laughter of children.  And, of course, the currents of time often bring us circumstances that challenge us, hurt us—or break us entirely.

God isn’t like that.  We’ve pointed out that God exists independently of His creation, therefore God is not affected by time.  Without time, there can be no change, therefore God is eternal and changeless.  In theology we therefore say that God is “immutable,” which simply means He is unable to change. He doesn’t need to grow toward maturity; He’s already perfect in every way.  He will never be slowed by age, for He is already ageless.

DOES GOD CHANGE HIS MIND?

This leads to a natural question: can God change His mind?  It’s a fair question, and actually a deeply practical one.  Because if God is changeless, how does prayer work?

The Hebrew Scriptures testify to a God that is changeless, and whose word is binding:

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

This sounds simple enough.  God does not change His mind.  Yet we can find other passages that seem to challenge this.  During their years of wandering, Israel strayed from their faith commitments by constructing an idol to worship in place of God.  God is naturally incensed by this, and says to Moses:

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:9-14)

The reason this is confusing is because in verse 10 God seems bent on delivering justice, but in verse 14 He “relented from the disaster that He had spoken.”  Does this mean that God changed His mind?

Let’s at least start by admitting that so many of our questions are the result of time-bound human minds trying to understand a timeless, infinite God.

What we find throughout Scripture is a God who reveals Himself in various ways throughout human history, and sometimes this takes on a relational dynamic.  Robert Chisholm of Dallas Theological Seminary writes:

“When we say that God changes His mind, are we denying His immutability, which affirms that God’s essential being and nature do not change? No. God is sovereign, but our sovereign God is also personal and often enters into give-and-take relationships with people. While the human mind cannot fully understand the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, the Bible teaches that God sometimes announces His intentions and then subordinates His actions to the human response. When God announces His intentions conditionally, He allows people to help determine the outcome by how they respond to His word.”[1]

SO WHAT ABOUT PRAYER?

Naturally, we can see how this applies to prayer.  God may be in sovereign control, but He pursues relational connections with His people—including through prayer.

Think of it this way. Imagine you’re a kid, and your parents decide to get you a bicycle for your birthday, but they are waiting for you to ask them for it. Time goes by; your birthday approaches. Then one day you ask your mom or dad if you could get a bike for your birthday. And then, on your birthday, you get a bike. Did your request “work?” Didn’t your parents intend to get you a bike all along? Perhaps, but they were also lovingly waiting for you to ask them for it.

The same is true of God.  Granted, the analogy above only works because we know the bicycle is in your parents’ will.  We don’t always know what God’s will is.  But this also means that we should pray all the more boldly, because it is in God’s eternal will to bless His children with good and perfect gifts.  That’s why Jesus teaches His followers to “ask, seek, and knock:”

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

Granted, God doesn’t always say “yes,” but we mustn’t let the abuses of the “prosperity gospel” (the belief that God’s greatest purpose is to bless us with health and wealth) to diminish our confidence that God desires our joy.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

There are many people in our lives that we might place confidence in.  Pastors, politicians, maybe even our family members.  But sooner or later these people will let us down. God does not change.  His “immutability” leads us to trust Him more, because only God can be our true constant in the rushingly unpredictably waters of time.

 

[1] Dr. Robert Chisholm, “Does God Change His Mind?” in Kindred Spirit Magazine, Summer 1998

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4 thoughts on ““You never change…” Can God change His mind?

  1. Thank you for this teaching
    It supports us in this season of our life
    God does not change nor does he change His mind He is always a sovereign, merciful God
    That is his character and we can count on Him for all good things when we seek his kingdom and His righteousness as best we can as His Spirit directs us. Sometimes the good things Challenge us in ways we cant understand but we can count on Jesus to walk with us through everything

    • Indeed. And Jesus–being fully God but also fully man–experienced all the things that you and I experience, but being an unchanging God was not swayed by temptation (Hebrews 4:15), therefore we can count on His perfect record, His perfect sacrifice to define us regardless of our circumstances. Thanks for reading!

  2. I believe God does not change, He does not change His plan for us either, He just inspires or enhance’s it to give us Wisdom, Guidance, or Choice on our Journey through Life. Also possibly He does this to see our growth and maturity in our Relationship with Him after all He is the Judge of our future and how else would He do that without some kind of unexpected change?

    • These are great thoughts. So much of this also falls into the category of “things to ask God once we meet Him.” C.S. Lewis once famously said the most common words we’ll be saying in heaven are “Of course”–because only then will we finally understand how our circumstances weave into God’s larger plan.

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